Hugo Schmökel’s groundbreaking research sheds light on the shared skeletal challenges faced by ancient predators and today’s domestic animals, emphasising the urgent need to address genetic predispositions to these conditions in modern-day pets.
His work, supported by IVC Evidensia, opens a new chapter in veterinary medicine and pet care, bridging the gap between the past and present for healthier, happier pets.
Hugo Schmökel commented on his initial visit to the La Brea Museum in Los Angeles, who gave him permission to study their collection: “During my first visit, I concentrated on stifle diseases like cranial cruciate ligament rupture, which are very common in our modern-day dog companions.
“But in addition to cruciate disease, I also found OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) defects in the stifles and shoulders – which is again very common in modern dogs.
“My second visit was more focused on the changes in the spine of the dire wolf and the Sabre-toothed cat.”
Hugo Schmökel went on to explain some of his research into skeletal diseases: “Some of the changes in the joints and the spine look very familiar.
“Some dire wolves had cruciate ligament ruptures, but it was uncommon compared to the most affected dog breeds.
“This is very similar to modern-day grey wolves which also suffer rarely from cruciate damage.
“In contrast, the prevalence of stifle OCD in these fossilised remains is amazingly high, especially in the sabre-toothed cat.
“This could indicate some degree of inbreeding, a factor which is predicated for species close to extinction.
“The bones excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits cover the last few thousand years of the Ice Age predators after they dominated North America for millions of years. The tar pit 61/67 contains bones from the very end of the extinction process.
“Malformations of the lumbosacral area are linked to inbreeding in modern grey wolves, and I found that the sabre-toothed cat also had a high prevalence of the same malformations we see in these wild modern inbred wolves, and some dog breeds today.
“In my work, I was able to document with CT scans other spine changes/diseases in these historic creatures, which are unfamiliar to us. Careful diagnostic work is necessary, and comparison to other animal species and human spine disorders before we can give a definitive diagnosis for these changes.”
Hugo Schmökel also elaborated on the implications for these links in modern veterinary medicine: “We can see that the biological answers to trauma to bones and joints are very old.
“We can use our evidence from the research and treatment of our cats and dogs to conclude some details of the circumstances and suffering which led to the same bone and joint changes during the Ice Age.
“Of course, we must be very careful, and not forget that these were wild animals without medical treatment living in a harsh environment full of fierce competition.
“A dog with medical care can have an acceptable life quality, an Ice Age predator with the same injury had no chance to survive.
“However, the prevalence of genetic predisposition for some of our most common orthopaedic diseases in modern-day dog breeds is something that needs to be addressed, and the parallel to animal predators who were probably inbreeding due to population decline and ultimately extinction puts the whole disease history into a 100,000-year perspective!”
Lastly, Hugo Schmökel thanked IVC Evidensia for the opportunity to undertake this research project in the first place: “IVC Evidensia supported me during my second trip to Los Angeles, which gave me the opportunity to take a selection of spine specimens to the University Hospital in Davis, California.
“Now we have high-quality CT pictures of these specimens which can be evaluated and shown to other experts. This will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the spine changes, which we do not see in our modern-day patients.”
You can read the full interview with Hugo Schmökel on the IVC Evidensia website.